History of The Portland Megaband

The Portland Megaband has been in existence since 1996. Every year, we play a Portland Country Dance Community benefit contra dance on the second Saturday of March. In addition to that, we play a contra dance slot at the Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle every other year (2016 will not be a Folklife year for the band). Every time we have played, it has gone very well--the dancers have loved it, and we musicians have had a blast. So far, we have always been able to achieve a cohesive, tight sound. The first time we played, there were 25 of us. In March 2015, we had 75 musicians and 500 dancers! The band is organized and directed by Erik Weberg and me (Sue Songer). 

Who does The Megaband Benefit Dance support?

The Portland Country Dance Community and the Portland Megaband sponsor a yearly benefit dance to raise funds for members of the Community. The benefit funds are available to PCDC members in the form of grants to help offset the costs of dance camps, musician camps/workshops and caller workshops. For more information about applying for a grant, contact PCDC.

To the prospective Megaband Member

The Megaband is an all volunteer (i.e. unpaid) contra dance band open to musicians at any level of experience on any acoustic instrument. Ability levels range from beginner to professional musician; all are equally welcome. 

Music and rehearsals: 
About 4 months before we play the PCDC dance, I mail out the set list. We draw from the 3 volumes of The Portland Collection: Contra Dance Music in the Pacific Northwest, from tunes that band members and I have encountered since the publication of The PCs, as well as from tunes written by band members. The tunes are posted on the Megaband website in a format that is easy to download and print out. In years past, Betsy Branch and I have recorded files with all of the sets played clearly at a tempo slightly below dance speed. Band members have found these recordings very useful for learning the tunes. There are 7 rehearsals for the dance beginning in early January. Each of the first 6 rehearsals lasts 2 hours and is held on Sunday afternoon from 3 - 5. The final rehearsal on the Sunday before the dance lasts from 1 - 5. In the rehearsals, we work mostly on playing as a group and getting the right "feel" for the music. Band members should plan on attending all of these rehearsals. I think that everyone finds them to be fun, and the end product is very rewarding. 

In addition, band members sometimes host informal rehearsals to work on the tunes, and sectionals are sometimes offered by various band members or me.

The Dance:
The PCDC Megaband dance is held on a mid-March Saturday each year at the Smith Ballroom at Portland State from 8:00 pm until 11:00 (figure 6:30 pm to midnight for the band). We will play about half of the same sets that we played the last year.

How to sign up:
All new band members come into the band through a waiting list. If you would like to play in the band, please get back to me by email  if you have email or by phone if you don't have email with your name, address, phone number, instrument, and approximate level that you play (beginner, intermediate, advanced), and I will put you on the waiting list for next year. You will not be on the waiting list until you have read this message and confirm with me that you are still interested in joining the band. There is a cap of 75 on the sign up slots. Former members will sign up first (we must do it this way since the band is very dependent on the experienced members being able to carry the newer ones along), and then it will be opened up to those on the waiting list. If we have more people on the waiting list than spaces available (as usually happens), band members will be selected according to length of time on the waiting list with some attention to balance of instruments. Musical ability and/or experience is not a factor in admission to the band. The above said, there is a cap on certain instruments that are difficult to integrate into the band either due to the nature of the instrument or staging complications. Those instruments are keyboad, bass, hammer dulcimers, percussion, and horns. If you play one of these instruments, you might have to wait until there is an opening in your particular section. While you are waiting, I encourage you in the strongest of terms to go to the local contra dances if you are not already doing so, and to join in some of the playing opportunities listed below to get acquainted with contra dance music and gain some experience playing it.

Other opportunities to play:
The Megaband will have a potluck picnic and jam session each summer, and, if you have put your name on the waiting list, you will be invited. It will give you a chance to learn more about us as well.

Etienne Scott hosts monthly teaching sessions of contra music on the second Thursday of every month. Tunes are taught by ear by contra musicians George Penk and Dan Compton. Cost is $15 ($10 for PCDC members). Etienne can be reached at  for further details.

There are contra dance (and other dance) music session several times a month in the Portland area. Musicians in these sessions very much welcome newcomers. Sally Joughin, ,  hosts a session in SE Portland on 1st Mondays.  Laurel Thomas, , hosts a session in NE Portland on 3rd Mondays. Ivan Camacho, , has info about the Thursday session in Hillsboro. These folks will be glad to give you details about the sessions if you contact them.

PCDC hosts an open mike/open caller contra dance on the 5th Sat of every month that has a 5th Sat. You can play for this dance. Contact me for further details.

I have an email list that is of interest to many musicians. This list announces workshops for musicians, house concerts, and also sends out the set list for the 5th Sat open mike contra dances. If you would like to be added to it, please let me know. 

I'll be happy to answer any questions not covered here--either by email or by phone. Hope to see you when we begin our rehearsals again.

Sue Songer